Who doesn't love Forsythia? The sight of its vibrant yellow flowers really makes Spring feel like Summer! It is very commonplace but nevertheless much treasured as a reminder of sunny days to come.
It was a surprise to me when I found out that Forsythia is a genus of flowing plants in the olive family Oleacea. There are about 11 species mostly native to eastern Asia, Japan, China, and Korea. No species of Forsythia was common in cultivation before about 1850 and it was not until 1908 that the first outstanding variety was imported into this country. Since those times many cultivars have been created.
We are most familiar with the early-flowing bush or small tree common to many parks and gardens named after Scottish botanist William Forsyth, (1737-1804), royal head gardener in Kensington and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. Its hardy four-lobed yellow flowers are produced in profusion in early spring before the leaves. These become pendent in rainy weather thus shielding the reproductive parts. The fruit is a dry capsule, containing several winged seeds.
Forsythia suspensa (Lian Qiao) with its graceful arching branches is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs of Chinese herbology in use for over 4,000 years for ailments such as skin conditions. According to some legends, once forsythia begins to bloom, it means you’ll still have three more snowfalls before the winter is truly over but I've a suspicion this applies only to the Far East...?
In numerology, forsythia with its four joined petals is associated with the number 4 which is the number of Foundation: the four winds, the four seasons, the four astrological elements. 4's are solid, 'four-square' and reliable, so like those stoic forsythias in our gardens.
In the Victorian era, flowers were assigned special meanings, as part of a secret language hidden within bouquets and vases of mixed blooms and foliage. Forsythia was associated with anticipation which fits nicely with its role as a vibrant harbinger of Spring and the seasons to follow.
Korea has a musical instrument called the ajaeng, whose string were made of twisted silk supported by separate movable bridges was plucked or played with a bow. The bow is some 65 cm (25 inches) long, fashioned from a peeled and hollow forsythia branch that has been hardened with pine resin which helps resonation.